Bishop Sankey bulls for career-high 208 yards rushing in front of family from Ohio, Keith Price has another 300-yard passing day, and UW overcomes a dozen flags and two lost fumbles to improve to 2-0.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
CHICAGO – Just the very thought of seeing his family immediately following another breakout game in front of them made Bishop Sankey’s smile grow.
The grin eventually got as huge as his rushing numbers.
“It will be great to see them again,” Washington’s runaway runner said of his family members Saturday night, moments before he walked up a ramp beneath Soldier Field to see them near the team bus.
After his second 200-yard rushing day in three games – both have come with his mother, Julie Becker from Cleveland, plus aunts and uncles from Ohio in the stands – Sankey met them for brief celebration of his 21st birthday that is Sunday.
“I know they are definitely proud,” he said.
They have company.
Sankey bulled for a career-high 208 yards on 35, definitive carries while scoring one touchdown running and another one receiving in front of his personal cheering section. That allowed the 19th-ranked Huskies overcame 12 penalties and two lost fumbles to beat Illinois 34-24 Saturday night.
In his last two performances in front of family from his native Buckeye State, including December’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Sankey has the two biggest rushing games of his three-year career: 205 and now 209 yards.
“They were definitely my good-luck charm tonight,” Sankey said.
At this rate, Huskies fans may want to pass a hat to get Sankey’s people out for all of Washington’s games.
Yet Sankey and his Huskies, playing with its highest national ranking in 10 years, used far more than luck to improve to 2-0 entering next week’s game against Idaho State of the Football Championship Subdivision.
Keith Price completed 28 of 35 passes for 342 yards and two scores, his second consecutive 300-yard passing game -- after an entire 2012 season without one -- as the no-huddle offense rolled up 615 yards on 85 plays. It was the same number of plays the Huskies ran to gain 592 yards in their 38-6 win over Boise State two weeks ago.
And Jesse Callier returned from reconstructive knee surgery 12 months ago and then third-string status entering the game to provide a 39-yard touchdown run. Then he had a huge catch and run for 27 more yards on third and 8 in the fourth quarter. That set up Travis Coons’ clinching field goal with just under 5 minutes left.
Sankey joined Napoleon Kaufman, Corey Dillon and Louis Rankin as the only Huskies in 120 seasons of football to rush for 200 yards in a game more than once. Kaufman did it three times in the 1990s; Dillion eclipsed 200 yards twice in 1996, and Rankin did it two times in 2007.
Asked if he’s thought of his sudden place among the best UW rushers ever, Sankey – true to his understated personality – just shrugged.
“This team, the running back corps, myself, we all just focus on moving forward,” Sankey said.
“It was opening up. Holes just kept continued to open up, and I was able to take advantage of them.”
Rush end Josh Shirley took advantage of his quickness advantage over Illinois’ big offensive line. He had three sacks in the first half as the UW defense swarmed. The Huskies had four sacks in all while storming to a 31-10 lead with a 21-point third quarter.
The fact it was a 31-24 game midway through the fourth period is what had coach Steve Sarkisian and his players far from content that they won for the fourth time in 11 games away from Seattle.
Sarkisian drove home that point in the locker room following the game.
“It’s great to come on the road and be 2-0,” the coach told his players of this season of high standards and expectations. “But all of us can look in the mirror and say that we can improve upon this performance. If all of us individually do that we will be better as a team.
“I thought they showed a great deal of maturity,” Sarkisian said later in a hallway outside that locker room. “They are excited to be 2-0. But they realize they can perform better.”
“We let them come back,” Price said of the Illini. “But I’m just proud that we didn’t let that rattle us.”
Illinois (2-1) fought back to within 31-24 early in the fourth quarter behind elusive quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, whom Shirley and the Huskies harassed all night using a new defensive line with four rush ends to address one of the keys entering the game. On the first scrimmage play after Price and Jaydon Mickens connected for a 9-yard touchdown pass that made it 31-10, Scheelhaase, seventh in the nation in passing coming in, saw Ryan Lankford get behind UW cornerback Greg Ducre for a 72-yard touchdown connection.
After a Huskies’ punt to begin the final quarter, Illini receiver Miles Osei ran a reverse before throwing to Matt LaCosse for 35 yards on third and 2 near midfield. That set up Aaron Bailey’s 10-yard touchdown run, and Washington’s lead was just 31-24.
But, as Shirley said in comparing these Huskies to the one that lost leads late in the final two games of 2012, “We had laser focus. In the past, we let our guard down in situations like that.
“Today we came together. And we finished.”
Thanks to Sankey, Callier and Ducre late.
On 2nd and 18, the crowd of 47,312 for Illinois’ “Chicago Homecoming” at the home of the NFL’s Bears got loud. But Sankey got even larger. He took Price’s pass over the middle for 19 yards and first down. On third and 8 at the UW 45, Sarkisian called for a backside screen pass to Callier, in anticipating of Illinois’ blitzing off the backside. The Illini did.
“I didn’t know the defenders wouldn’t be there. I shuffled out and I didn’t see anyone there,” said Callier, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the 2012 opener against San Diego State.
“I was like, ‘Oh, snap! Here we go.’
“It was great to be back.”
The only reason Callier was getting carries was because second-stringer Dwayne Washington lost two fumbles in the first half.
Asked how he’s handled being first string, the starter entering 2012 – until his injury and Sankey’s subsequent emergence as a 1,400-yard star – Callier smiled.
“I’m just happy to be playing football again,” the junior said.
Sankey was just as happy for Callier as he was over his own, 200-yard rushing night.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jesse,” Sankey said, “for all the adversity he’s been through.”
After Callier’s 27-yard catch and run down the Huskies’ sideline on the perfectly timed screen pass, Sankey ran for 8 yards behind left tackle Micah Hatchie for a first down to the Illini 15. That allowed Coons to kick his second field goal, this one from 32 yards, and UW was back up by two scores 34-24 with 4:44 to go.
Ducre ended Illinois’ final hope. On a double pass, Scheelhaase caught a lateral outside then threw deep, Ducre stepped leaped at the sideline for an interception with 3:51 remaining. Sankey and the Huskies ran out the clock from there.
Without nine penalties and the two lost fumbles by Washington, the Huskies would have been leading by more than 10-3 at halftime.
Then again, without its defensive front — specifically Shirley — UW might have been trailing. His three sacks in the opening half were about half his team co-leading total of 6.5 from all of 2012.
“We just used what we had to our advantage,” Shirley said. “We have a heavy package, and we have a speed package. Tonight we took advantage of our speed.”
Yet Shirley, like his coach and his teammates, was far from satisfied.
“Everything, in every department there should be improvement,” Shirley said.
“The sky’s the limit for this team.”